Hugh Freeze did his best to spin Mississippi’s bowl ban into a positive. He noted the challenge could provide his coaching staff a chance to put in its “greatest hour.” He explained the lack of a postseason provides a moment for the Rebels to show the country exactly what they are made of.
But no matter the spin placed upon the situation, the fact remains that after Ole Miss’ 12-game season, there will be no postseason.
And that is a reality Freeze, his coaching staff and the Ole Miss players have to deal with.
“Certainly we wish we had it where we could have some carrot at the end of those 12 games, but right now that's not reality for us,” Freeze said. “So, what is reality and how do we deal with it? And I get to set the tone for that.”
Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban for the 2017 season in February after receiving a notice of allegations from the NCAA. This followed a lengthy investigation, which included a 2016 notice of allegations that included a failure to monitor charge.
In total, there are 21 allegations, with eight of those coming in February. Four of those allegations occurred when Houston Nutt, who recently levied a lawsuit against Ole Miss, was the head coach of the program.
Among the charges is that a former staffer arranged payment from a booster to players.
Freeze refused to answer any questions regarding the NCAA investigation or Nutt’s lawsuit.
It remains to be seen how all of this affects his team in the coming season. It will also be his job to prepare his players for a year where there is no reward for a winning record.
Sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, who started the final three games of Ole Miss’ 2016 season, said Freeze told the team there is still a lot to accomplish this year.
“His message is to control what we can control,” Patterson said. “That’s coming in every day and working hard. We still play 12 games in the best conference in the country. We get to go out to Cal. We play at Kentucky. We’re all still doing what we love. We have one goal and that’s to win.”
Patterson, a former five-star quarterback regarded as one of the top two at his position during his recruitment, will look to emerge as the face of the program in a period marred in scandal. Given the leadership needed at the quarterback position, Patterson could be counted on to keep the locker room together when times get tough. If Mississippi doesn’t open the season too strong, it will be easy for players to check out since there is no end goal.
That is certainly a scenario Freeze and the Rebels will hope to avoid.
“We've had many talks as a staff. I talked to these players quite frequently,” Freeze said. “I spent more time in individual conversations with our players than I ever have before, and making sure that we were all on the same page together with this.”
The Ole Miss seniors will end the 2017 season without a bowl game. Players with remaining years of eligibility, as of now, will still have the chance to play in a postseason in future seasons.
That’s one thing Patterson can look forward to while a dark cloud hovers over the Ole Miss program.
“This type of stuff doesn’t really faze me,” Patterson said. “Of course, we can still compete to win a national championship (in later years). I’m worried about Sept. 2, getting better every day and being the best version of myself.”